Zero Dark Thirty was one of the best movie experiences I have been a part of in the past year (unfortunately, it was too late to make the Top 10 Movies of 2012, but as the official release is not until Friday, it might very well be on a 2013 list), but it was almost ruined for me. No, not the ending, because we all know what happens, but the experience was almost ruined. Here is what went down: I am sitting there with a bunch of friends, and the movie is in the midst of its killer moment. The theater is dead silent. Everyone is locked in, absolutely captivated. Then, my buddy next to me, for reasons I will never begin to understand, decides to belt out, “’Murica!” completely spoiling the atmosphere of the moment. Guys, this movie is really good, so do your best not to be a total douche and ruin the vibe for everyone around you. Anyway, now that today’s lesson in basic movie theater etiquette is out of the way for people who cannot function in a society, we can move on to the review.
Zero Dark’s biggest triumph is that is able to create a feeling of suspense and anticipation even though you know exactly what will happen. For a good two hours, this is a well-done war-room kind of movie, with solid acting all around, but never really anything that blows you away. Then, when the actual operation finally arrives, it enters another level. The shots are fantastic. The sound is unbelievable (one of the best uses of silence I have ever seen in a movie). The intensity is through the roof. It is one of the best military scenes of the past decade, absolutely.
That being said, the first two hours need to be addressed. In a word, solid. You have some crazy interrogation moments, headed by the spectacular Jason Clarke, and some cool intelligence scenes. Casual viewers may be lost among all of the difficult-to-distinguish (if we are being honest) Middle Eastern names, and while Jessica Chastain is overall really good as the lead character, she only truly shines when her character is given some personality. When we can see Maya’s passion to find Bin Laden, and the joy she has in the CIA’s successes along the way, the character really comes to life. However, a few scenes exist where she seems to really struggle with saying the F word, of all things, and this can be pretty distracting. All in all though, this a really well-acted movie, and the performances carry the audience through the first three-quarters of the film all on their own. The plot is compelling, and frankly quite fascinating, but watching the characters working both behind the scenes and on the front lines is a joy. Not to ruin anything, but things become a heckuva lot more tense after one scene shows the behind-the-scenes jobs to be not quite as safe as they seem.
The final act of the movie, the scene everyone has been waiting for, the reason you go to see this movie in the first place, kicks the whole movie right in the mouth. Guys, Kathryn Bigelow did it. Plain and simple. The operation with Seal Team Six to invade the compound in Abbottabad is one of the most memorable scenes I have seen in the past year, maybe even in the past 10 years. It was perfect. I do not know what else to say. It was perfect.
Zero Dark Thirty, through the first three-fourths of the movie, is an extremely well-done CIA film. It has great acting, some hang-your-mouth-open moments, some cringe moments, anything you might want in a manhunt movie. Its only drawback through these sections are some slightly-awkward moments of profanity (I know it seems dumb, but it sounded dumb onscreen. That is the only way I know how to say it) and the sweeping-away of Jason Clarke, who does quite well within his interrogation scenes, but is not given much other material to work with. Despite all of this, the final operation is so fantastic that it sweeps all of your nitpicks aside and commands your absolute attention. Within this mega-scene, Zero Dark Thirty becomes the movie it was supposed to be. It becomes an experience.
You go to the movies to see things like Zero Dark Thirty. Is it perfect? Nope, but the last half-hour makes up all of the ground it lost in the “beginning” and then some. This movie is exceptional. The tail end is unreal.
9 out of 10: this is an experience you will not want to miss.